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Starting up an E-Commerce Website

Written by - 24/03/2015

If you have a bricks and mortar store and are looking to start selling on the web or if you want to start up your own online business, there are a number of things to consider when you start your project.

Off-site Considerations

Get a Merchant Account

Your first step in being able to sell anything online is getting a bank account set up to accept all of the money you are going to make. Unfortunately, any old bank account won’t do, nor will a standard merchant account, you’ll need to open a merchant account that can accept internet payments. Most major banks offer merchant products that include acceptance of internet payments, as well as most good internet payment providers. Speaking of which…

Get an Account With a Payment Provider

Once you’ve set up somewhere for the money to go, you’ll need a way of getting it there. This is where internet payment providers come in with a product called a payment gateway. The gateway allows users of your website to make a payment with their debit or credit card easily and securely and have the money end up in your hands.

You could take and process their card details yourself, but that creates a number of security and legal risks. We would always recommend that it is left to established payment providers to take, process and manage card transactions.

Payment providers generally charge a transaction fee (either as a percentage or nominal amount), while some will also charge a monthly or yearly fee. As a general rule, the more transactions you have going through your site, the lower the transaction fees.

There are many providers on the market to choose from: PayPal, WorldPay, SagePay, Secure Trading and PayPoint to name a few. PayPal tends to be a little more expensive than others, especially if you go for a Web Standard integration, mostly because it is so simple to set up. It is a good option to get your shop going and making money, but not necessarily a great long term option.

All good payment providers offer an online terminal and transaction management, so you can manually take payments outside of the website if you need to and give refunds on returns.

On-site Considerations

Think About Getting an SSL Certificate

Security on the internet is more important now than it has ever been. Your new online store will be regularly taking and storing personal information from your users so it would be worth thinking about that process happening in a secure environment. Having an SSL certificate on your website means that all data transfers are encrypted and much less vulnerable to being exploited. The fact that your site has an SSL certificate will display in the user’s browser, which is reassuring to them and adds an element of legitimacy to your website.

Work Out Your Shipping Rates

To be honest, this is usually the most complicated part of setting up an e-commerce site, so it is worth getting your shipping charges worked out early. If you are already shipping goods you’ll have a decent starting point, but you’ll need to take the following into consideration:

  1. Where are you shipping to? Are you just shipping to the UK or are you shipping worldwide?
  2. Do you have any couriers or other postal services to send your goods with?
  3. As with payment providers, most postal services offer lower rates with higher volumes of shipments.
  4. Are you going to offer different types of shipping? It’s worth considering options like next day, first class and free shipping if you can offer them.
  5. Can you offer free shipping above a certain value?
  6. How big are the goods you’re going to be sending and how much do they weigh?

Managing Your Stock

All good e-commerce platforms can manage your stock. If you’ve already got a shop, chances are you’re already managing your stock in one way or another. Now might be a good time to evaluate if the way you’re doing it is best for your business (and sanity) if you’re going to be starting up an online outlet. If you do already have a shop then a third party solution may be beneficial, something like Linnworks, which can then be integrated with the website so that all stock is managed centrally.

Get Some Decent Photos

Let’s face it, people shop with their eyes so your products need to look their best. If you walk into a department store you wouldn’t expect all the clothes to be crumpled and piled up on the floor, the same theory applies to your website. Clear, clean images of your products, no matter what they are, will be more appealing to your users and will be more likely to sell.

If you get your products from a manufacturer it is worth asking them for their catalogue of images, or find a professional photographer and get your own ones taken.

Give as Much Product Detail as Possible

Unfortunately a name, photo and a price isn’t really going to cut it. When buying anything online the user has no real sense of the feel, size, shape, weight, colour, smell or anything about the product other that what you show them in photos. It is important to include as much written detail as necessary to help the user understand the product and what they are going to get for their money. Getting technical specifications from your manufacturer is a great start to providing this important information for your potential customers.

If you’re thinking about setting up an e-commerce site and have any questions or concerns about the process or prerequisites, feel free to get in touch with one of our web consultants.